Outsmarting the Fish
July 20th, 2019 by Pam Blair

Richard Darlington enjoys making flies, showcasing his skill as a craft vendor at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park. He sells his flies in the gift shop. The small bream flies are $1 each. The larger bass and saltwater flies are $3.

Lifelong fisherman designs flies to fool fish into biting

When he was just 5 or 6 years old—big enough to hold a line—Richard Darlington began fishing with his dad and two brothers in Tarpon Springs.

“My dad was an avid outdoorsman since his youth,” Richard says. “He started us out using old handlines with braided line that the local grouper fisherman used. They were primitive, but we still managed to catch a lot of fish back then. It was then that I fell in love with fishing.

“What I found most fascinating about it was that you never knew what you were going to pull out of the water. It instilled a sense of mystery to fishing that has never gone away for me.”

Today, Richard fishes and ties flies.

“My goal is to make fish think it is something good to eat,” Richard says of his flies. “I’m trying to prove to myself that I am smarter than a fish—even though a lot of it is luck, being in the right place at the right time.”
As a youth, Richard was so fascinated with fishing that his parents bought him a fish dictionary from a local sportswriter.

“I studied so much that I had memorized the common names of all the fish it was possible to catch in the local area,” Richard says. “I even memorized the scientific names of the more popular gamefish. Did you know the snook, a popular Florida gamefish, is known to scientists as Centropumus undecimalis. What it means is sharp gill plate. It’s the scientists’ way of warning fishermen to use wire leaders when fishing for them.”

Florida is both a saltwater and freshwater fisherman’s paradise, Richard says.

“Rivers and lakes were alive with bass and panfish everywhere you looked, even close to a big city like Tampa,” he says, reflecting on his youth.

Richard says he got into fly fishing in about 1960, when he was 12 or 13.

“I had been developing an interest in it, but hadn’t gotten a fly rod yet,” Richard says. “My dad took me out fishing on a local lake one evening, and that experience pushed me over the edge.

“We got out to the lake a couple of hours before dark and started bass fishing. All I had to fish with was an old spin-casting outfit. Just before sunset, an enormous insect hatch occurred on the lake, and the whole lake exploded with feeding bass. I had bought a bass fly, but I had to throw it to the fish on my spin-casting rig, using a float to be able to throw the light lure. With that I still managed to catch a fair size bass or two. That clinched it for me.

“I saved my model airplane money from mowing lawns and got myself a fly-fishing outfit and a handful of flies, and was hooked on it for life.”

Richard’s parents bought him a small fly-tying kit and he set to work.

“They were crude at first, but I found the fish didn’t care so much,” Richard says. “I remember loaning one to a friend when we were fishing the river in Tampa and he caught a snook on it. The fly was a kind of rainbow special made from a variety of colors, but the fish didn’t care.”

Another time, Richard caught a nice snook on a crude fly he had made. His cousin’s husband took one look at the fly, called it “just plain ugly,” and gave Richard one of his special trout streamers, urging him to tell people he caught the snook on the streamer.

“I guess the fish don’t care much, but other fishermen do, so I started trying to improve my patterns,” Richard says. “It took a while, but I think I do OK now.”

After high school, Richard attended seminary in Miami. He did mission work with North American Indians for a couple of years in the West and in New York with the Iroquois before returning to Tampa and working in an electric motor repair shop. After the birth of his son and later the death of his first wife, Richard remarried and moved to Georgia, working as a truck driver.

“We did well enough to get a nice place on a lake up there, and I was in heaven,” Richard says. “The lake was full of all kinds of fish: bass, crappie, bream, catfish, carp, white bass and striped bass. You name it. I tried to tie flies that would catch them all. I did pretty well on everything but the catfish. Shrimp and chicken liver still do better on them.”

In 2011, Richard moved to White Springs, where his wife, Sharyn’s, parents lived. After Sharyn’s death in 2014, Richard says he was looking for something to keep him occupied.

While at the town laundromat, he learned about the craft cabins at Stephen Foster Folk Culture Center State Park and was encouraged to apply as a vendor.

“That was four and a half years ago,” he says. “I’ve been a regular ever since.”

Earlier this year, a man visited the craft cabin and learned about Richard’s interest in fly tying and fishing. He invited Richard to join Fly Fishing Healing Waters—a national organization that helps traumatized and wounded veterans by teaching them to tie flies and fly fish.

Richard works with veterans from the Lake City VA Medical Center. He says it is personal and particularly meaningful because his son, Kendon, is a wounded veteran, injured in Fallujah in 2004.

“He’s doing fine now, with a beautiful family and a fantastic job in Atlanta,” Richard says. “I’m thrilled to be able to contribute in this way. It’s been a wonderful experience. I have a chance to do what I love and help people at the same time. What could be better?”

Richard says he has caught thousands of fish in his lifetime, and never tires of it.

“A lot of my fishing is catch and release, especially for bass,” Richard says. “I feel sorry for them because they get hammered by all the professional bass tournaments that go on all the time.

“But I do keep a lot of other fish to eat, especially panfish like bream and crappie. They’re delicious!”

For more information, contact Richard Darlington at richardhomer47@gmail.com.